While attending Blogworld Expo last week in Las Vegas, Nevada, I had a wonderful Twitter experience that resulted in my friend Klaus and I being given free tickets to see the hottest show on the Las Vegas strip: Cirque du Soleil The Beatles LOVE.
I’m going to go into the show in depth, but let me start by giving you a one word summary: fabulous!
Having said that, let me also say that prior to LOVE I had never attended a Cirque du Soleil show, either in Las Vegas, Orlando, Florida or anywhere else. I’ve certainly heard quite a bit about the performing group and the various shows (they have about twenty five active shows, some of which tour and others that are in fixed locations, like LOVE). The general buzz is that it’s fun, amazing, and trippy. I’d agree with all three.
Before we jump in though, let me just say that I was on Twitter chatting with a few other folk about how I really wanted to see a Cirque show, specifically The Beatles LOVE, while in Vegas this time. To my surprise, one of the marketing team at Cirque reads Twitter and sent me a message asking “which show, when?” Long story short, I had two tickets compliments of the marketing team, which was an unequivocal home run for my Twitter experience. Another one, actually.
But back to LOVE…
The Beatles LOVE is not a concert with performing artists, it’s a show that has a backstory and a logical sequence of songs and acts that were chosen. That might not always be obvious in the kaleidoscope of colors and often frenetic activity, but as Guy Laliberté, the creator of the show, explains:
“Ode to this enchanting trip,
A childhood formed against the surreal backdrop
Of Liverpool’s rubble.
That would rise to lead the world’s youth
On a frenzied, splendid ride
Bounding from day to night, dazzling and soulful,
Ravenous and sensual in its love…”
As someone who has listened to The Beatles since I was a wee tot, it was very fun to have the music remixed (by Sir George Martin, original producer for The Beatles, and his son Giles Martin) and reinterpreted by the Cirque troupe. What music wasn’t chosen was as interesting as what was included in the show, and I’ll say that there’s a lot of “b-side” material, a lot of the more psychedelic material than you may expect if you’ve only heard their greatest hits albums like “ONE”.
The entire show starts with “Because”, which has been slowed down and remixed in a way that left me leaning forward in my seat, waiting for each chord as the song progressed far more slowly than in the regular mix. During this number, we’re introduced to the major characters in the show: Father McKenzie, Eleanor Rigby, The Walrus, Krishna, The Fool, The Nowhere Men, Mr. Piggy, Sgt. Pepper, Lady Madonna, Lucy and the Fireman, Her Majesty and Doctor Robert. We’re also introduced to the amazing stage that was built for this show as it raises and lowers in various and varied configurations throughout the performance. Quite amazing!
Not in any logical temporal order, the next number is “Get Back”, which celebrates the Beatles’ farewell concert on the rooftop of London. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band makes an appearance, just to be destroyed when we move to the next number, the odd “Glass Onion”, which flashes back to the devastation and chaos of the War.
Now the show begins in earnest, having moved back to Liverpool during World War II. The next numbers are “Eleanor Rigby” and “The Walrus”, both of which offer up striking and intriguing visuals, sometimes so frenetic that you literally have no idea where to look. There are some very strong imagery of the church failing to stem the tide of first the War, then the rebellion of the youth to the war-torn culture.
The rebellious youth lead to the formation of the Beatles and Beatlemania, some of the most enjoyable parts of this somewhat dark performance. Lots of girls running on stage, screaming, some of the best early 60’s Beatles songs like “I wanna hold your hand” and “baby you can drive my car” show up, and I couldn’t help but look around for Austin Powers with the groovy 60s psychedelia everywhere. He doesn’t show up, needless to say!
Following the party of Beatlemania is a mellow, sensuous song “Something”, an aerial ballet that shows off just how the Cirque troupe has made an international name for itself. It was a demonstration of strength, but in a graceful and delightful fashion.
That interlude ends with the frantic, trippy circus of “For The Benefit of Mr. Kite” (yes, “there will be a show tonight on trampoline”. Interestingly, during this number there wasn’t a trampoline, though it did show up later). This was a delight and crazy, kind of like if a slightly deranged ringmaster decided to produce a circus that was 100x beyond anything anyone had ever seen. This transitioned into the skating tour de force of “Help” and the weird “Blackbird” number (I admit, I didn’t fully understand the imagery of this last song, though the song itself is a favorite).
The Lonely Hearts Club Band return with “Strawberry Fields” and “Sgt. Pepper”, with lots of whimsical instruments. Again, a very trippy portion of the performance, this left me grinning and delighted with how the Cirque team had taken the craziest images and turned them into actual scenes (for example, one performer walked on trombones, as if they were stilts. Brilliant!)
Next was one of my favorite numbers: they took the LSD-inspired “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and slowed it down to a love ballad, with a sweet dance number between Lucy and her love, the Fireman, utilizing a very neat, carefully balanced wheeled ladder prop that made everything slow and graceful. Very cool. Immediately thereafter was more weird Beatles music, “Within You Without You” and “Tomorrow Never Knows”, followed by the banal “Octopus’ Garden” performed as some sort of drug-induced Little Mermaid sort of piece.
The next number was “Lady Madonna”, “Here Comes The Sun” (one of my favorite songs from The Beatles, also one of George Harrison’s best) and “Come Together”. This sequence had some striking dance numbers, especially one where the dancers wore bright yellow rainboots with bells and danced a complex rhythm. The lead male dancer, “Sugar Plum Fairy”, was a standout at this point in the performance.
“Revolution” / “Back in the USSR” was the next number, and I loved the way it was staged, with trampolines, nets for the performers to bounce into and grab, and a London phone booth in the center of the stage, with a small trampoline hidden on top! This acted out the “hippies versus the establishment” of the late 60s and was most impressive. It was also the first place where I saw a mistake: one of the performers missed his cue and landed, hard, on the stage, missing a trampoline. He walked off and we didn’t see him reappear that night. [I checked with the Cirque team and they told me that yes, he’d landed poorly but was back on stage the following night. I’m glad, I can imagine performers getting hurt all the time with a complex, athletic show of this nature] More George Harrison songs were up next, with “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” (which I’d always thought of as a throwaway song but it was given new life with the complex imagery of The Beatles LOVE) and the weird but compelling “A Day In The Life”. The latter song, if you’re familiar with it, is about childhood loss, and while there was much dark imagery in the performance, this was relatively gentle, though the end of the number does have the main performer (a woman in a long, flowing red dress) “dead” on stage.
The next – and last – number brought us back to a happy place: “Hey Jude” was definitely all about “take a sad song and make it better”, a perfect segue after the death that ends “A Day In The Life”. Finally, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band reappear for the close, and then, post applause, the “curtain call” is, unsurprisingly, the wonderful “All You Need Is Love”.
The house lights came up and everyone walked out, happy and excited about the performance. Except one older gentleman a few rows up from us, who had an usher insist that the photos he had taken during the performance were against the law and prohibited by the terms of the ticket. He resisted and she called security on her walkie talkie. We left at that point, not knowing the outcome, but I was of mixed opinion about this action: on one hand, the performance is the intellectual property of Cirque du Soleil and they can take all reasonable steps necessary to ensure their rights. On the other hand, I’m confident his pictures were all inevitably terrible, so would it really have been a big deal to let him walk out remembering the joy of the performance, rather than the hassle from security personnel?
The ultimate question is was The Beatles LOVE worth the price of the tickets?
Maybe I shouldn’t answer that because, I know, I got the tickets for free, but I’ll ask it a different way: would I pay $125/seat or more for a chance to see it again? You bet I would. I’ll be back in Las Vegas in January 2009 for the Consumer Electronics Show and I’m quite seriously considering catching an encore performance, particularly now that I understand a lot more of the storyline of The Beatles LOVE.
Whether I go to The Beatles LOVE or something else, however, I can say that I am now a lifelong fan of the Cirque du Soleil troupe. It really is amazing stuff.
Check LOVE out for yourself next time you’re in Vegas, and if you do, I encourage you to buy tickets online so you can ensure you get the performance you desire. It really is the hottest ticket on the Strip.